Francisco Liriano has been dominant against the Cubs, and the Pirates are relying on the lefty to be just that again, this time with more on the line than any start before it.
After bouncing back Saturday from Friday's loss, the Pirates need a victory to win the home series against the last-place team in the National League Central, and Liriano will square off against fellow veteran left-hander Travis Wood in the series finale.
The Pirates' victory on Saturday moved them to a tie for first place in the NL Central after the Cardinals lost to the Mariners later in the night.
In their meeting against the Cubs on Sunday, the Pirates have to feel good about things from the very first pitch.
Liriano is 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in four career starts against the Cubs, including three gems this season. He has allowed just two earned runs on eight hits in 23 innings of work against the Cubs this season, good for a 0.78 ERA. That includes a complete-game victory on July 5.
Liriano's coming off a win that qualified as big as well, beating Texas as part of the Pirates' huge sweep at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He allowed one earned run in six innings in that one, and he has allowed one earned run or fewer in 15 of his first 23 starts.
Wood has been on a decent roll of late, allowing no earned runs in two of his last three outings, earning victories while throwing seven innings in both. The one between wasn't as sharp, but Wood delivered a strong outing at his old stomping grounds of Cincinnati last time out.
"Almost every outing it seems you could say [Wood was impressive] for the most part this year," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said after a 2-0 win over the powerful Reds. "Tonight was obviously one of his better ones against one of the better lineups of right-handed hitters, as well as their lefties that hit lefties well."
Wood is 4-5 with a 3.40 ERA in nine career appearances (eight starts) against the Pirates, but he has been better than that this year. In two starts, he has allowed just one earned run in 12 innings of work, striking out 10 and walking four. That includes six shutout innings in his first start of the year and another gem in June.
Cubs: Infield gloves shine
The Cubs have the leather covered with three of their infielders among the league leaders in fielding, led by second baseman Darwin Barney, who has just four errors and a .993 fielding percentage, which is the best in the NL for second basemen. He extended his latest streak of errorless games to 40 on Saturday.
Anthony Rizzo is second in fielding percentage for NL first basemen and leads in other metrics, while shortstop Starlin Castro has only four errors in his last 71 games.
"They've saved a lot of runs and done a lot of good things over there," Sveum said of his infield.
Pirates: Marte making progress
Starling Marte has been out since Aug. 19 with a bruised right hand, but he's making strides this weekend toward returning to the lineup. He faced live pitching prior to Saturday's game for the second time.
It's apparent Marte will have to play through some pain, but the Pirates do want to get him some at-bats before too long to see how much he can help them down the stretch. He's been limited to pinch-running and coming in as a defensive replacement.
"He's aware of the pain," Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. "I just made sure that he understands it's not going to go away. If we want to wait for it to go away, we're probably talking 2014."
• The Pirates have a 9-6 lead and would clinch the season series with a win Sunday. The two teams will meet again at Wrigley Field on Sept. 23-25.
• Following Sunday's series finale, the Pirates will have the Padres coming to town for four games, starting Monday. The Cubs will move on to Milwaukee for four games before closing out against the Braves, Pirates and Cardinals.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.